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An Environment of Unnecessary Culture

An Environment of Unnecessary Culture

18.02.2013 13:51

Palo Fabuš | critique | en cs de

Culture must find its defense not under the conditions of the state ideology, but under its own conditions, which are foreign to the state today.

All sorts of people get indignant about the idea of a future in which the ruling political regime has taken a clear stand by officially declaring that “culture is unnecessary.” Today, this statement floats through the Czech lands like a dull echo, outlining the impossible-to-ignore fact that the only thing separating us from this future is this official declaration – an honest naming of a point of view that de facto rules this country already. This awareness is enough to rouse opposition and to cause voices of dissatisfaction to cry out, but it is not enough for people to stop acting according to public declarations and to start acting according to what we know.

We know that today’s regime is interested in art only on the level of vague declarations. We know that faith in the necessity of austerity measures serves the government as a tool for keeping the entire environment in a state of voluntary underdevelopment. We also know (but somehow avoid giving this fact too much importance) that repeated protest against this state of affairs is essentially protest in name only and that it fails to articulate any real dispute.

What we can be sure of is that this dispute can no longer be formulated while simultaneously preserving the rules of the ruling symbolic environment – an environment in which words such as affluence, need, meaning or necessity are defined by the dictionary of political economics; an environment in which we can have a completely different understanding of what culture and the support of culture mean, but as long as we express ourselves in ways inherent to this environment, it is not us but this symbolic environment that determines the meaning of what we say.

And if inefficiency and waste are an absolute taboo for this environment of tightened belts and minds (even though it is their hypocritical veil), then we must agree with this and demand not just the mere existence of culture but must accept nothing less than its flowering. Culture must find its defense not under the conditions of the state ideology, but under its own conditions, which are foreign to the state today.

We must therefore unconditionally reject the concepts of “reasonable extent” and “within the realm of the possible.” We must stop serving culture up as investment, export, employment, or source of innovation and creativity; we must not treat it like the final piece of a puzzle that simply fits into the government’s economic policies. And if we don’t want it to be a cog in the machine, but to be truly the spirit that sets it all in motion, then we must see it as something that, by definition, is long-term. We must work according to the fact that the nature of the problem and the cause of bad solutions is a short-term perspective, and that there is not the least sense in trying to turn around a long-term retreat of meters and kilometers through short-term gains measured in centimeters.

 

 

It is important to admit that it has been a long time since the state has had the kind of monopoly on things as it used to, although it likes to pretend otherwise. Public affairs today are decided by a network of influences that extend far beyond the boundaries of the state’s apparatus and that slowly and invisibly have been shaping the values of the current environment. They are diverse influences: political, cultural, and primarily economic. The state is a mere bowed regent, too sanctimonious to free itself from the despondency that it spreads all around itself. Even vocal protest is no longer an audience for it or proof that we still believe in it. Without hesitating even for a moment, it will extinguish the flame of protest by admitting that it is justified. It will seek excuses, arguing that its hands are tied and that the reality dictated by the environment is the only one possible. Like in a rite of spring, it willingly plays its role in the annual ritual of public unrest, celebrating the start of a new cycle within the old order. Antagonisms remain superficial and the barricades mere props.

 

 

If we tell each other that society needs culture, that it is indispensable, then we will understand – we will know – that it is of enormous benefit to man to be able, at least for a moment, to step out of our everyday coordinates of pragmatic thinking, to escape the machinery of objectivity, efficiency, and plans, where the purpose of rest is merely to gather energy for more work. However, it is difficult to deny that culture is not a true need or necessity in the real sense of the word, and that not only can one live without it but many people do so without feeling impoverished. We can find many examples from history when civilizations did without culture – and its absence did not pose any threat. In all honesty, there is no reason to rule out the possibility that some civilizations managed to prosper precisely because of the absence of culture.

There is no necessary relationship between culture and survival. The most vital part of culture – art – belongs to the same category as experiment. We can do without them, but any deepening of our relationship to the world and our knowledge of it becomes unthinkable. A person who wants to grow beyond himself must reach beyond the boundaries of usefulness and benefit – he must risk. The opportunity for quality culture thus arises only where the satisfaction of needs no longer takes up all of our waking life. However, the environment in which we live continues to praise and encourage us when we use words like “need” and “purpose,” even though we do so far more often than is absolutely necessary. All along, however, there has been no reason to pay attention to the question of usefulness any more than (for example) the question of what the weather will be like next week. We possess more than enough of the preconditions necessary for the emergence of something as useless but meaningful and meaning-forming as culture. Besides, why would we even call it “cultural wealth” if culture wasn’t something extra – a claim to luxury?

 

 

The only honorable option is to demand much more. Not a culture that begs or merely exists – only a strong and proud culture can be a desirable influence on an environment that is losing its ability to ascribe meaning to things that have no clear purpose. Let us therefore insist that despite the fact that we don’t need culture, we want it!






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